Do You Have Permission to Metal Detect?

12th August 2015 — 13 Comments

The recentpermission-granted-logo1 spate of stories where people entering the hobby having bought a relatively simple machine, exploring near a path or in woods and finding ‘treasure’ is on the increase.

In most cases to which I refer, the ‘newbie’ didn’t have the necessary permission to search. In mitigation, they said they were unaware that it was even necessary. As well as being against the law, the practice can also be rather dangerous.

Earlier this year I read that a man using a detector received for Christmas had unearthed a World War II bomb. He commented that it was really the first time he had used the machine and although the bomb was a ‘nice’ find, he would have preferred a big pot of gold. The guy was detecting on a path in a nature reserve!

He said, “I wasn’t sure what it was to start with, so I started digging down with a spade and flicked it out of the ground and onto the ground and onto the grass.” Just before that he had found a few coins in a children’s playground – or Tot Lot, for our friends across the water.

Adequate Advice?

Are we doing enough at point of sale to educate new detectorists? I think not. Previously I’ve advocated that retailers should educate new buyers. Some do; some don’t. After all, it’s not a good selling point to talk about restrictions of use.

For finders in the UK, perhaps a simple leaflet in the box explaining the Treasure Act and what should be done if the new owner finds something significant might be the way forward. It isn’t enough to have a statement on the retailer’s website either – some (but not all) have detailed advice on how to buy a detector, basic kit needed and where to go for further advice, but nothing on the former. More should be done.

Would it be too much to ask manufacturers supplying the English market especially to have such documents supplied with every new machine? Perhaps there are problems with that idea that I haven’t envisaged, but surely it’s worth consideration.

Seasoned hobbyists know that ALL land in the UK has an owner whose permission is required before you can use a detector, and that it is illegal for anyone to use such a machine on a scheduled ancient monument without permission. Unfortunately, newcomers are not always so enlightened.

Importance of research

Of course I mustn’t lump ALL new detectorists under the same banner. There are many the archaeological establishment would call ‘responsible’, have learnt to seek permission before they explore a site, and do everything by the book.

The catalyst for this small article was just such a ‘newbie’ in Scotland who did all the right things, but still fell foul of the law. His tale is one from which other detectorists might benefit.


Clive (not his real name) started detecting in July 2012 when he bought a Garrett Ace 250. Within a week of joining the hobby, he was lucky enough to gain his first permission on a farm. He tells me that he was keen to get out, didn’t do any research, yet managed to find a Bronze Age sword. He was ecstatic and handed it in to the museum, complete with the exact co-ordinates of the find spot.

Detail 2

The next day, after doing a little simple research, his excitement soon turned to dread when he realised that the sword had been found on a scheduled site. Rather fearfully he immediately passed this information on to the (Scottish) authorities. Sounds like a paradox. He had permission, but didn’t have permission! The penalties are substantial, so you are advised to understand current legislation!

Clive realised that he had broken the law, committed a criminal offence and could be facing prosecution. Read about the law in Scotland. What followed was a nerve-wracking few weeks as he wondered what course the authorities would take. Unauthorised use of a metal detector could result in a fine of up to £1,000, and removal of any object of archaeological interest, a fine of up to £10,000.


“In the end,” said Clive, “They recognised that I had made an honest mistake and gave me a stern warning.” A valuable lesson was learned, not only about permissions, but also the importance of researching land before detecting. I thank Clive for sharing his story … he was very brave to do that and perhaps we can all benefit.

The tenant farmer may have said that you can search the land, but do you have the permission of the landowner?

The above post is a resurrected copy of one originally made in 2013, but is still relevant today


PAS guidance for landowners, occupiers and tenant farmers in England and Wales – Click Here


Update on my  LAST POST –  Mutts Nuts Have a Sense of Humour

Thank you for the Kind Offer!


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13 responses to Do You Have Permission to Metal Detect?

  1. LOVE it…. Yet so many choose to ignore or go on about NO Sign saying no Detecting…

    Then there are those that get carried away with Asking if they can metal detect – YET fail to understand that Detecting can be different to RECOVERY..

    And even if you do get permission to dig/recover – it does not mean that it is yours 🙂

    Too many out there hoping to make a big find and sell and cash out…

  2. Re. John previous post, i see the Mutts Nuts shirt people have offered a discount to his readers. We are lucky in Australia as farm owners generally live on the property and permission is usually given. We don’t have to ask for permission to detect in State forests but local aboriginies are pushing for us to notify them of club camping area’s in case we camp near sites special to them.

  3. Another good blog John, hopefully newbies will get to see this and benefit from it. Ignorance is no defence in the eyes of the law.

  4. thanks John for that interesting read.

  5. Excellent again John and it points out the importance of recognising that ALL land is owned. And none of us have the right to just help ourselves. Or if you do the consequences can be pretty stiff!
    Cheers DD

  6. Thanks John, its prompted me to ask a question about getting permission.
    I have two open plots of ‘common land’ near me which is used for Fetes, etc and general recreation by the public. It is just grass plots next to a main road. As these are Common Land, do I need to get permission to detect on them?
    I have thought of approaching the local council, but I am concerned they may say no. If I do contact them, what is the best approach? Is there a piece of common law I can use to bolster my application?
    I have been on them once, but I was always looking over my shoulder waiting for someone to say, Oh! what do you think you’re doing?
    I would be grateful for your advice.

    • Sounds as though it’s council owned property and you will need to seek permission. I don’t know of a ‘correct’ approach, but a short letter to the relevant department (check on the Net – sometimes goes under ‘Parks and Recreation’) AND the benefits to them is what you need. Tell them, in addition to looking for interesting items, you will be clearing a public area of metal junk that could be hazardous to the public. You will leave the area as you found it.

      This information on Common Land may be useful:

      Good Luck.

      • When I am asking and or at the final stages of getting a permission; I always – confirm what will happen to any finds – If events have been there – there may be a lost property list….

        Local gov are foremost worried about any litigation. So you need to manage their concerns as to your Status etc.

        The other issue is that you did a plug or leave a mess and some one trips / hurts them selves on items that might be left un-covered – they could attempt to sue who ever is responsible for the land.

        It gets complicated – but public places are usually defined and as such some level of damage is expected. Cricket or Football – tags in boots etc will mess the grass and is acceptable. But if you did a plug, do not clean up correctly and some one gets hurt, the park management will get the blame.

        And if there are any Power or Water access points – You need to know. Dig a deep plug and you could cause problems.

        Thus I also offer to show how I recover – I DO NOT dig plugs. I cut and pop.

        Quicker and less mess when chasing items more recently lost .and in a public area.

      • Just in case you were thinking badly of me. I do get permission to detect on land. It was only in this one case where it is ‘Common Land’, which I thought was open to all to use. It is not a park, not a cricket pitch or football pitch, it is just a bit of green called ‘The Common’.
        Thanks for the advice. I will dig a little deeper (excuse the pun) into the use of common land before contacting the local council.

  7. Just a note and reference re the ‘foreshore law’ in the Northern Isles ie Orkney and Shetland which is quite different to that of the Scottish mainland.

    ‘Udal Law still exists today, most apparent in the ownership of the coastline. Whereas in the rest of Britain ownership of land extends only to the High Water mark, in Orkney and Shetland this extends to the lowest Spring ebb, plus variously as far as a stone can be thrown, or a horse can be waded, or a salmon net can be thrown.

    Since the foreshore belongs to the adjacent landowner and is not Common Land, there is no absolute right of access to the inter-tidal zone in Orkney or Shetland. However traditionally no one objects to folk going along the shore. If in doubt it is polite to ask.’

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